26 May 2020
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SPEECHES, INTERVIEWS, ARTICLES

28.04.2020

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers during a video lecture at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), Moscow, April 27, 2020

Mr Torkunov,

MGIMO University is rapidly making the switch to new technologies in the face of the real restrictions the coronavirus has placed on in-person interactions. I was told that you had managed to organise the switch very quickly without somehow losing the materials you have to impart, in addition to the knowledge. I am confident that MGIMO University will do a good job of holding its exam period, the defence of graduation theses and the state final certification. I hope that you will find a creative way to enroll new students. I don’t know how the campaign will be organised, but please ask if we can do anything to help you. We will try to be useful.

I do not regard this as a lecture, more like a seminar, perhaps, because I believe it important to focus mainly on the interactive part.

I won’t speak long about how the coronavirus fits into the dramatic changes that have swept across what we call the global geopolitical landscape or how it has affected numerous aspects of interstate relations and international affairs. The global economy has suffered a strong blow. According to most expert forecasts, the road to recovery will be long. Of course, all contacts between people, including humanitarian, educational, scientific and tourist exchanges, have been cancelled for the most part. Unfortunately, diplomatic opportunities have also narrowed. I have already had a chance to talk about how much online communication can really replace person-to-person interactions. This way of communicating can’t really compare with an in-person conversation, face to face. I think that all of my colleagues miss it, too; at least I regularly talk with many of them on the phone and get the sense that their views and feelings on this mirror my own.

At some point we will have to thoroughly assess and understand the ultimate impact of the pandemic on international affairs and develop comprehensive joint approaches to working in the post-pandemic period. I believe that at this stage and in subsequent ones we will have the support and contribution of MGIMO University’s academic and expert resources. We are interested in it.

We still do not fully understand the impact, but perhaps we can draw some conclusions at this stage already. I think that the main conclusion is that the crisis has clearly shown (if anyone still needed proof) how interconnected and interdependent all countries and all areas of life are in today’s world, without exception.

We have long warned of the danger of underestimating the cross-border nature of numerous threats, including new challenges like international terrorism, the risk of the uncontrolled proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and cybercrime. To these we can add not only the climate processes that have worried many countries for a long time, but also pandemics like the one the world is dealing with now. I think that one of the main conclusions at this stage is that even the most stubborn sceptics must realise now that nobody can wall off such threats. Trying to act only for yourself, to wait out the storm in your quiet port, so to speak, won’t work. Everyone can see this now. Countries that chose to isolate from the rest of the world and countries that decided to take a more philosophical approach, like Sweden, for example, have suffered to almost the same degree. No one was or will be able to guard against it. Long before the current events, we were calling on all countries to unite to address cross-border threats that spare no one. It was timely then and is even more so now, because there is clearly a growing demand for the entire world to act together in solidarity.

I hope that the crisis (as the saying goes “every cloud has a silver lining”) will motivate all global political actors, primarily the leading states, to put aside their fleeting differences and work together in a professional manner for the sake of securing a peaceful and prosperous future for all people. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of the United States Donald Trump have given a sign that there is cause for optimism. Yesterday they released a Joint Statement on the 75th anniversary of meeting on the Elbe, which was the focus. The Soviet Union and the United States managed to rise above their differences and join forces in a decisive war against a common enemy. Essentially, the challenge is the same now.

Naturally, we hate to see attempts, which are unfortunately being made, to use the present crisis to advance narrow, selfish and momentary interests, to squabble and settle scores with inconvenient governments or geopolitical rivals.

Again, we do see such attempts. Naturally, it’s paradoxical when the countries presenting themselves as defenders of human rights and the champions of democracy continue to use an illegitimate tool, the so-called sanctions, in circumvention of the UN Security Council, and are now trying to politicise humanitarian aid during the pandemic which hits especially hard the more vulnerable members of the population that need better access to food, medicine and medical assistance in general. We reject in principle the illegitimate methods that I am referring to, and moreover, such actions are unacceptable during a worldwide disaster.

As you know, at the G20 Summit, which was also held online, President of Russia Vladimir Putin put forward the initiative to create "green corridors" that would be free of trade wars and sanctions in order to freely supply all those in need the medicines, food, equipment and technology necessary to protect against the coronavirus and overcome this pandemic. We welcomed the relevant statements by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who, inter alia, when commenting on the current developments in the world, advocated the lifting or easing of restrictions imposed on certain countries. First of all, we are talking about countries that are under unilateral sanctions, in addition to UN Security Council sanctions. I mean Syria, Venezuela and North Korea. A number of other countries also need such relief. Our Mission to the UN is actively forming a group of like-minded people to make this approach a reality.

We consider it extremely dangerous to try to use the current situation to undermine the UN basic principles and system as a whole, whose specialised agencies remain the only mechanisms of multilateral cooperation in relevant areas. This fully applies to the WHO activities. We consider the attacks on this Organisation, the attempts to blame it for everything that is happening absolutely counterproductive and unfair. According to our assessment and that of the overwhelming majority of states, the Organisation acted professionally at all stages of the crisis, taking proactive steps and distributing information and its recommendations to all states.

Let us hope that, when learning the lessons of the ongoing crisis, we will manage to strengthen the UN-centred nature of global architecture following the crisis. It is clear that there are other agencies, but they all rely on the principles set out in the UN Charter and do very useful work. I will give special mention to the G20, which includes the G7, BRICS and other large world economies. The creation and functioning of the G20, in fact, confirms that the Western countries associated with the G7 are simply no longer able to single-handedly address key global problems and reach any meaningful solutions.

This year we are marking the 75th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, in World War II. All the nations of the Soviet Union played an essential role in defeating Nazism. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this event for all humankind. Today it is very important for us to not let this heroic deed be forgotten, to prevent young people from forgetting what national egotism, disunity and complicity in any manifestations of chauvinism and xenophobia can lead to.

Unfortunately, we continue to see attempts to rewrite history. The Foreign Ministry together with other Russian agencies, based on our archives, is doing everything necessary to counter these destructive ideas and to prevent the revision of the international legal results of World War II, including the rulings of the Nuremberg trials. An absolute majority of the international community shares our positions, which is reaffirmed annually by the UN General Assembly resolution on combating glorification of Nazism that is adopted by an overall majority.

The leaders of the CIS member states adopted a corresponding statement at the highest level, which was circulated at the UN. Work in this area is also underway at the CSTO.

I hope that MGIMO University, which has long and fruitfully taken part in our common efforts, will continue to make a contribution to our joint work to protect the historical truth and the good name of those who gave their lives to save the world.

The 75th anniversary of the Victory coincides with the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. It was possible to establish the organisation thanks to our common Victory and the spirit of cooperation and alliance between the members of the anti-Hitler coalition. Of course, today the great powers that made the key contribution to the defeat Nazism and the establishment of the UN have special responsibility, as reflected in the UN Charter. We are convinced that the contribution of the five [UNSC permanent members] at this crucial stage of world development is relevant to forming the direction for the further progress of interstate relations in the post-crisis era.

In general, in a situation when the world is going through tectonic changes, when the bipolar model, and especially unipolar models, are becoming obsolete, a polycentric international order is forming with several powerful centres of economic growth and financial power, and, of course, political influence comes with economic growth and financial capacities. This is a long historical era. This won’t happen over a month or two, or a year. This is an era when the world is changing, the world that has been developing according to Western models for more than five hundred years whereas now a wider cultural and civilisational diversity must be relied on and taken into account in the global policy. Considering the role of the five UN permanent members envisaged in its Charter, earlier this year President of Russia Vladimir Putin put forward an initiative to hold a summit of the heads of state and government of the UN Security Council permanent members in order to discuss the entire range of tasks that must be addressed at the highest level in the context of implementing the UN Charter’s principles and goals in today’s circumstances, first of all, to ensure the sovereign equality of states and non-interference in their domestic affairs, as well as a peaceful settlement to conflicts and disputes. All the other countries’ leaders supported the initiative: first China, then France, the US and finally the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Now we, for obvious reasons, are waiting for a time when it will be possible to begin the practical work to organise such a meeting, because it must be face-to-face. Everyone agrees on this. At the same time, the five states are thinking about their contribution to countering the coronavirus. It has been agreed to hold a videoconference in order to do this. We are deciding on the date now.

When working on establishing a new international order, we continue to rely on the potential of such organisations as the SCO and BRICS. Of course, we discuss ways to increase the effectiveness of joint efforts in all areas, including regarding the coronavirus, at the EAEU and within the CIS.

In conclusion, I would like to once again thank the MGIMO University management and the teaching staff for their contribution to taking practical steps in implementing Russia’s foreign policy course, as well as to the events to mark the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. I have listened to the beautiful song recorded by the MGIMO choir. It really evokes sincere respect and gratitude. 

I am ready to answer your questions.

 

To be continued…




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